– By John Nichols
June 29, 2011- Opponents of Ohio Governor John Kasich’s push to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights—as part of a national push by newly elected Republican governors to silence opposition to their cuts in funding for public education and services — needed to collect 231,000 valid signatures to force a referendum that would override anti-labor legislation enacted by Kasich and his allies.
That was a tall order. But the labor and community groups that have come together to defend public employees, teachers, schools and services have exceeded it —by more than one million signatures.
With petitions carrying 1,298,301 signatures packed in 1,500 boxes carried by a semi-truck, organizers of the We Are Ohio campaign and thousands of their allies marched to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office in Columbus Wednesday—one day before the deadline—to file the paperwork necessary to force a November vote on overturning Ohio Senate Bill 5 and Kasich’s attack on labor rights.
“We stood at the Statehouse today where thousands of hardworking Ohioans stood earlier this year protesting SB 5,” declared We Are Ohio’s Melissa. “While their voices were drowned out by the extreme politicians who decided to pass SB 5, today We Are Ohio wants [to] let them know their voices will be heard.”
Wednesday’s festive Million Signature March—complete with bagpipes, drum lines and antique fire truck blaring their sirens offered a taste of what is to come in a referendum campaign that labor leaders say will be the most energetic the state has seen in decades—perhaps since the famous 1958 referendum in which historically Republican Ohio rejected an anti-labor “right-to-work” law and swept Democrats into the governorship and other state posts.
If this fall’s referendum passes, as polls suggest it will, the actions of Kasich and the legislature will be voided and collective bargaining rights will be restored for state, county and municipal employees and teachers.
The stunning success of the Ohio petition drive parallels the pushback in states across the country, where citizens have refused to accept the assaults on labor rights, public services and public education proposed by newly elected Republican governors and their legislative allies.